Let’s just all imagine a scenario for a second. You are a 20-something year old backpacker. You’ve just arrived in New Zealand after saving for the last year. You can’t wait to get lost in the untamed wilderness of it all. To get away from people and get back to nature. To explore scenes unlike anything you’ve laid eyes on before. Do you think that after your month-long trip to this mystical land of nature you would be satisfied?
If your answer was yes then you are unlike a growing segment of tourists to our country. A segment that is worth a decent chunk of our annual tourism spend. Like the tectonic plates that lie beneath our rugged land, freedom campers and New Zealand citizens seem to be colliding. We are not seeing eye-to-eye. Why? Quite simply, because New Zealand has made a weak attempt at accommodating the people we are only too happy to welcome through our borders. What is commonly painted as a complex issue, is really quite simple when you boil it down to 1 basic fact. New Zealand does not possess the infrastructure to deal with our ever-growing tourism demands. If a person gets fatter and doesn’t get bigger pants, the buttons will one day pop off. Our buttons have popped. This button popping has manifested itself in the form of freedom camping becoming a dirty, crowded and often unpleasant encounter that doesn’t reflect the desired experience.
‘Attractions’ aren’t where the problems are noticeable. You don’t go to the bungy in Queenstown and notice it cannot handle the demand. Tour-based visitors aren’t a problem area. They are here for a week or two, they spend money on the expensive activities and importantly, they stay (and excrete) at an established accommodation provider. So if not the main attractions, where are these problems bubbling to the surface? By in large, in our regions. In the areas of the country that are considered an ‘escape’ and a ‘getaway’ from the main tourism destinations.
We at Breadcrumbs believe that the key to this problem lies in the definition of ‘self-contained’. You know that little blue sticker that you see on a Toyota station wagon that has no business being there. To any reasonable person, self-contained would suggest that you can be completely contained within your vehicle. Cooking, cleaning, washing and all. In New Zealand however, our rules state that to pass the certification your vehicle must simply be able to contain waste water for 3 days (among other details). Therein lies the loophole. Do you honestly believe that anyone with a ‘self-contained’ sticker on a station wagon has ever cooked, washed clothes or relieved themselves inside that station wagon (remember they have a mattress & everything they own in the back of that wagon with them). I don’t buy it.
Now, the usual response to this is that these people will be staying at ‘self-contained’ campsites with facilities. This is probably an accurate statement the majority of the time. But again, herein lies the problem. If you arrived in your beat-up station wagon to a ‘Self-Contained campsite’ to find that the toilets were full to the brim, there’s monster spiders and they hadn’t been cleaned in weeks I guarantee you would poo in the bushes too. There’s the crux of it all. We simply are not funding the appropriate level of infrastructure and infrastructure management in the regions of New Zealand to sustain such a high growth in our ‘self-contained’ camping movement. There is a fundamental disconnect between the organisations that manage camping locations across the country. Between the severely underfunded DoC and the disjointed regional councils, the definition of what to expect at a ‘self-contained campsite’ has become hazy.
I for one feel sorry for freedom campers in NZ. Whether justifiably self-contained or not, it is becoming harder and harder for people to know where they can and cannot spend the night in our oft-backwards country. I feel sorry for the people who are liable for a $200 fine for unknowingly sleeping on the wrong patch of grass. I feel even more sorry for these visitors when I think about the aggression they face from over-aggressive keyboard-warrior locals. These visitors to our country add an average of $3700pp to our economy over a typical month-long period. They are generally well-behaved, respectful of our culture and natural heritage and come here to enjoy what we are lucky to call home. Isn’t it time we gave them the experience they are looking for?
This piece isn’t all complain, blame and shame either… We have a couple of ideas that might help:
So there you have it. Call it a rant, call it opinionated, call us geniuses – do as you please! We believe we raise some interesting points to discuss and if you would like to do just that please get in touch. The more attention the issue gets, the more likely it is to be solved. We at Breadcrumbs love the inherent appeal of a camping trip – the feeling of exploration, adventure and being in the outdoors. This is what people are coming for and it’s about time New Zealand delivered the experience that people are seeking.
When dropping a crumb at a campsite, be sure to tag it with either “self-contained” or “non-self contained” to let other users know they BYO toilet situation! Download Breadcrumbs below.